A sandwich shop is not a home, but it can feel like one. Still, it’s unusual when employees and patrons become outside friends. Our perceptions may be tainted with images of a Subway-dominated industry plagued by numb, robotic transactions. However, Rachel Salter, who has worked with Joseph’s Deli and its former operator Jim Foster for nearly four decades, has one longtime customer throwing her a goodbye party.
“She’s been to my house on many occasions,” explains customer Sherri Peters. “I told her I would have her retirement party here, and there will be at least 50 people. If I opened it up to everybody who knew her, there wouldn’t be enough space. That’s unusual for somebody who just works behind the counter at the deli. You don’t find it very often.”
Like many modern Portlanders, Salter is no native. Originally from California, where her Denver-based son spends a lot of time for work, Salter wandered up to the Pacific Northwest in 1972. She and her husband Larry Salter met square dancing, a vanishing pastime. They were married and moved to Parkrose in 1980.
Salter is now preparing to leave Parkrose after thirty-seven years. Salter and her husband are ditching their house, their adopted state and their crowded social network to move in with their son’s fledgling family in Denver, Colo. Their new home will resemble something out of a ’60s sitcom. Salter’s son recently married a woman with three children, and then the couple added two of their own.
“One of the kids is a 3-year-old named Lucy,” says Salter. “And when Lucy found out I make sandwiches for a living, her mom asked me to take a picture for her. It’s going to be weird moving again, and we’re also downsizing from a house to a bedroom.”
Joseph’s Deli is a business that is delicately sewn into the local history. It’s still famous for its Rip City sandwich, which was named for the Trailblazers’ NBA championship win in 1977.
Rachel Salter remembers Joseph’s Deli when it was Foster’s Deli and it moved into its current building back in 1980. She worked up a sweat traversing up and down Northeast Halsey Street, shuffling menus into the hands of her neighbors. This was long before the days of the Internet.
“At the time, it was the only place you could get a decent sandwich in the area,” recalls Salter, who first joined Foster at the Sandwich Depot Deli on Northeast Glisan Street in 1978, and then, in 1980, began working part-time at Foster’s Deli in Gateway before starting full-time in 1986.
At Joseph’s Deli, Salter has acted as a jack-of-all-trades. She mostly runs the kitchen, but she has been part-time for years now. Traces of her creativity have featured prominently in the shop daily.
“Every morning, she puts a trivia question on the [deli’s] board,” quips Joseph’s Deli owner Mal Joseph, who took over the shop in 1994 and kept Salter on due to her dazzling performance as an employee. “If a customer answers the question correctly, they get 25 cents off their sandwich. Rachel makes work fun.”
Another deli tradition is displayed through its lucrative sales of lottery tickets. One of Rachel’s best memories in the shop acted as a shot heard around Parkrose: the day she won the lottery in 1999.
“I won $22,000 on a Keno ticket while I was at work. The lottery called and asked me after I won if I wanted to do a promo. They put me on a billboard all over the state of Oregon, and they told me they might even feature me on a mug,” says Salter. “I had a customer call me and tell me that they saw my picture on a billboard in Tigard. It was just a $4 ticket I bought on my break, and I had to drive all the way to Salem to redeem it.”
With the money, Salter could buy a new car. Her luck was felt throughout the community.
Salter’s last day at work is March 24. A week after that, she plans on hitting the road.
Joseph has two locations in Gateway. The original Joseph’s Café & Deli is at 10812 N.E. Halsey St. The phone number is 503-252-2817. His newer location is a few blocks away at 11120 N.E. Halsey St. in 111th Square.
Rachel goes with the building,” exclaims Joseph. “She’s an incredible person. I don’t consider her an employee anymore—I consider her a friend and part of my family.”
Joseph hosts a bon-voyage party for Salter at the café and deli Saturday, March 18 from 2 to 4 p.m. Stop by and say goodbye.